Soap. Opera.

John Jones gets down and dirty with his two passions —singing and handcrafting boutique soaps

John Jones • VelvetRopeSoaps.com
FRESH SCRUBBED | John Jones’ soap-making business plan includes catering to gay boys and the church social blues hairs in Highland Park. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

John Jones toiled away complacently at his day job at an electric utility office, but he also had a creative side that needed nurturing. A healthy dose of entrepreneurialism led Jones to exercise control over his destiny and explore another aspect of his personality. And it included soap. And opera.

“I always wanted to start my own business,” Jones says. “I wanted to be creative, but it had to be something I could afford to do.”

The thing was, Jones didn’t have an exact idea of what he wanted to do. His only criteria were a cheap set-up cost and something that would feed his creative talents. His a-ha moment came while watching HGTV’s Househunters, where a couple featured on one episode mentioned they were in the soap-making business and that they lived off of it. That piqued Jones’ curiosity.

He bought books, did online research and soon found himself experimenting with lye and oil ratios and fragrance mixtures. Before too long, Jones came up with a recipe that he liked for handmade soaps — not from kits and poured into molds (that “isn’t really making soap,” he says), but crafted raw.

“I knew I could do that and it was fun and creative,” he says. “Now I have these big pots I work with and my guest room is now my soap room.”

Jones dashes off the lingo with ease, using terms like “saponify” (converting fat into soap) and extolling the benefits of using goat’s milk as a base. While he sounds like an old pro, he’s only been at it for a year. But he also realized he needed a new approach to make his product stand out in the marketplace.

It wasn’t just ingredients that would set him apart, but his market. Jones wanted a line of gay soaps with campy names.

“I wanted cute, catchy titles for the different soaps,” he says. “So I put ground coffee beans into my coffee bar, and oatmeal in my country bar. Others have their specific fragrances” as well. Leather bar, anyone? How about bear bar? And then there’s his gay bar, with its rainbow layers.

Notice a pattern here? It’s not by accident.

“I wanted a fresh, fun approach to this, not an old lady approach,” he says. “Me being gay and a bear, I wanted that to be my target audience. So these aren’t your normal soap scents.”

Friends helped him with covering the spectrum of the kinds of “bars” he could frequent, hence products that include piano bar, disco bar, sports bar, even a Goth bar.

“That has dragon’s blood in it,” he explains.

Still, while he saw the gay community as a primary market, his soaps are good enough for anyone. Thanks to his mother, he found a niche market and created and named soaps geared toward the church-social crowd.

“I got the gays covered and the sweet, old Christian ladies, too,” he laughs.

In October 2010, he created Velvet Rope Soaps, navigating the very scary ordeal of official state filings, obtaining liability insurance for cosmetic products, using invested monies in his company efficiently …and, of course, making the soap. Jones’ boyfriend helps him package the soaps and bath soaks, a scented bath salt that’s his other item right now.

At first it was totally an online affair, but after sending out samples, Velvet Rope is now available on store shelves.

“Skivvies has been selling my product for the last four months,” he says. “They just put in their third order and added a second shelf! They’ve been great and I’ve been happy with it. Now some of my goals are getting it into the Highland Park area and Deep Ellum.”

The soaps are still available online, with the added benefit that he can customize soaps, including helping customers develop personalized scents. But for the moment, his signature is branding the soaps with catchy phrases. Many have the company name on them, but he’s open to something else. Just ask.

“I can monogram soaps, put custom labels, wedding dates,” he says. “I was in the vendor market at Texas Bear Round-Up this year and my biggest seller was the leather bar soap branded ‘cum pig.’ Everyone said they were getting it for their boyfriend.” Uh-huh.

As if his job and his business didn’t keep him busy enough, there’s also his interest in singing opera that siphons off his time. Jones is working with local musician and performance artist Kurtz Frausun on The Dawn, billed as an electronic German war opera. The avant-garde show is scheduled for a November premiere at the Eisemann Theatre in Richardson.

“Yeah, it’s been an interesting experience,” Jones says. “Kurtz composed the music around our singing. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

But Jones is quick to get back to his soaps. He discusses potential new products, but wants to keep that under wraps. He has quickly become a savvy businessman even while discovering a new passion. At the very least, people can always use soap — and he encourages dropping it every once in a while.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “Fun things can happen when you bend over in the shower.”

For more information, visit VelvetRopeSoaps.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens